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Thread: Adapt Or Die

  1. #21
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default The CTCs and Learning

    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    We need to remember the enemy in COIN. He, too, adapts or dies. If he plays his hand poorly and our side plays its hand just a little better, we win and he loses - vice versa. In the end, our strategy, operations, and tactics do not need to be perfect, just better than the enemy's. I wonder how many COINs have been won at the margins.

    One really interesting question is why the Army and USMC have adapted so much more rapidly than they did in Vietnam. I suspect that it involves less resistance at more senior levels to change. Part of that has to do with 15 years of reasonable emphasis at CGSC on MOOTW/LIC/and all the other 100 names. Part of it has to do with pretty good doctrine for much of that time in FM 100-20 (1990) and JP 3-07 (1995) and related doctrine pubs like FM 100-23 for any who cared to refer to them. Clearly, some officers have had experiences that have made them ready to draw analogies to COIN ops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, it seems likely, that unlike several past instances , there was a cadre of senior and relatively senior officers who, when brought together, could and did provide a critical mass for change on the ground.

    John,

    If I had to point to one factor above all the others I would point to the existence of a tailored CTC program. NTC led the way in Gulf War 91 as the flagship of the heavy forces. JRTC led the way in 2001, rather JRTC had paved much of the way already. The variety of "assymetric" tactics and forces had long been a staple of JRTC.

    The other link as self-serving as this sounds was CALL. Now I say that as much as a philosophical answer as a factual answer because what CALL represents is the attitude and the idea that we should learn and adapt. Where we fall short is where we fail to live up to that idea.

    Taken in tandem and and now looking back a bit, I would say that JRTC was more than ready in 2004-2005 with all the elements of COIN as they emerged in 3-24. The small unit leaders were already doing most of what 3-24 callls for. What was missing was an approach that drew senior acceptance of ideas like "the best weapons in COIN don't shoot." It was not that we did not understand that idea; it was that senior leaders had to be led and in some cases bludgeoned into listening to such ideas. There was too much movement to contact and not enough situational understanding.

    I don't discount anything you said above, I just point to the CTCs where leaders could actually put in motion what the schools taught and learn from the experience. To me the classic was the brigade commander of the Rakkasans who told vistors in 2002 that he had considered all the variety of elements portrayed at a JRTC rotation (pre-9-11) to be unrealistic until he ended up dealing with them all in Afghanistan.

    Best

    Tom

  2. #22
    Council Member Nat Wilcox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    What was missing was an approach that drew senior acceptance of ideas like "the best weapons in COIN don't shoot." It was not that we did not understand that idea; it was that senior leaders had to be led and in some cases bludgeoned into listening to such ideas.
    Tom, a question. When you say "senior leaders," who do you mean, exactly? The reason I ask is that one of the "stories" we civvies hear in some of the media is that (to some extent) the senior civilian leadership took a long time to decide that an active COIN approach was necessary. In this "narrative" of recent events, civilian leadership putting Petraeus in charge allowed your platoon and company leaders to really do what they knew needed doing a long time ago--not simply to the extent they could on their own initiative, but in an integrated and whole-hearted way, which is (probably) a lot more effective overall. But this narrative also lets senior military leadership "off the hook" so to speak: It places the blame with the secretary of defense and the rest of the administration.

    I am sure that as with most things, it is a mixture of the two so don't exclude the middle if that is the right answer. Anyway I am curious how y'all see this.

  3. #23
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    Default CTCs and Senior leaders

    Tom--

    I didn't mean to discount the CTCs, especially JRTC about which I had heard many good things regarding these kinds of war since at least 1995. With respect to CALL (and FMSO, SSI, and the school houses) I guess the old phrase, "You can lead the horse to water but you can't make him drink." applies. But if enough horses go to the water some will drink it and that may be enough which was sort of the point I was trying to make.

    Nat--

    Military senior leaders are usually seen as 06 and up (COL, GEN, Navy CAPT, Admirals). Some of it is perspective. For the junior guy, the BN commander is a senior leader (LTC). For the General, it is the 4 stars, and the civilian leaders such as the Deputy Assistant Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Undersecretaries, Secretaries, and POTUS. As the trooper who just posted points out, there is still a long way to go and a lot of blame among senior leaders at lower levels as well as higher. Still, I am encouraged when I see people like GEN Petraeus, LTG Odierno ( who really seems to have grown since he commanded 4th ID) Mike Meese, Dave Kilcullen, John Nagle, Con Crane, et. al. and the influence they have had and are having.

    Cheers

    JohnT

  4. #24
    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arty8 View Post
    Cultural Awareness-itís amazing to me that active duty soldiers on their second and third tour lack Arab cultural sensitivity.
    The real experts in this war are the NCOís and Ltís who leave the wire every day and interact with the local populace.
    Hey Arty8,
    I couldn't have put it better, and it should never take three tours to figure out what jerks people off, be it Americans, Africans or whomever.

    Ya know, I once had an O-5 (probably my best boss and friend ever) who could figure out things on his very own. As a two-man team surrounded by 800,000 refugees, angry and armed Africans everywhere, we did just fine. Yeah, he thought I was the best NCO he had ever had (I was ), but the point is, he spent an enormous amount of time studying his element in preparation for a peace time engagement (gone sour).

    It's the individual, and all the rank in the world won't save your behind.

    We've got the right soldiers, but are we preparing them ?

  5. #25
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default Water Holes amd Drowning Horses

    Quote Originally Posted by Nat Wilcox View Post
    Tom, a question. When you say "senior leaders," who do you mean, exactly? The reason I ask is that one of the "stories" we civvies hear in some of the media is that (to some extent) the senior civilian leadership took a long time to decide that an active COIN approach was necessary. In this "narrative" of recent events, civilian leadership putting Petraeus in charge allowed your platoon and company leaders to really do what they knew needed doing a long time ago--not simply to the extent they could on their own initiative, but in an integrated and whole-hearted way, which is (probably) a lot more effective overall. But this narrative also lets senior military leadership "off the hook" so to speak: It places the blame with the secretary of defense and the rest of the administration.

    I am sure that as with most things, it is a mixture of the two so don't exclude the middle if that is the right answer. Anyway I am curious how y'all see this.
    Nat,

    My definition of senior leader these days really starts with the brigade commanders at full colonel for that is where they really start to have the flexibility to adapt or demonstrate their inability to do so.

    I would agree on the inability of the senior civilian leaders to recognize an insurgency when senior military leaders were saying one was afoot, notabaly Abizaid and later Pace.

    John T


    Agreed on the mulutiple watering holes. I have used that analogy myself, trying to give the horse the choice between drinking or drowning. I had a young man in my office the other day and he was looking at the books after announcing he was there to see "the CALL stuff." He would pull something off the shelf and then put it back. Finally my NCO asked him if he was looking for something in particular, He said, "No. I don't put much stock in this written stuff. I just get out there and do..."

    He left moments later and after confirming with my sergeant that I had heard what I thought I had heard, I told him, "That young man clearly prefers to learn by making mistakes, hopefully they won't get him or his soldiers killed."

    Some horses just drown.

    Tom
    Last edited by Tom Odom; 08-06-2007 at 02:38 PM.

  6. #26
    Council Member Nat Wilcox's Avatar
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    Thanks, Tom and John T.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    I have used that analogy myself, trying to give the horse the choice between drinking or drowning. I had a young man in my office the other day and he was looking at the books after announcing he was there to see "the CALL stuff." He would pull something off the shelf and then put it back. Finally my NCO asked him if he was looking for something in particular, He said, "No. I don't put much stock in this written stuff. I just get out there and do..."

    He left moments later and after confirming with my sergeant that I had heard what I thought I had heard, I told him, "That young man clearly prefers to learn by making mistakes, hopefully they won't get him or his soldiers killed."

    Some horses just drown.
    Why, I might just print this up to hand to certain grad students at appropriate moments (though it is a very sad thought). With or without appropriate attribution as you wish, of course.
    Last edited by Tom Odom; 08-06-2007 at 02:37 PM. Reason: Tom's bad typing

  7. #27
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nat Wilcox View Post
    Thanks, Tom and John T.



    Why, I might just print this up to hand to certain grad students at appropriate moments (though it is a very sad thought). With or without appropriate attribution as you wish, of course.
    if it helps them learn, feel free, Nat

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    Default Some horses...

    Nat and Tom--

    Great line!!!!

    I'll have to follow Nat's lead with my undergrad and grad students.

    JohnT

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    For what it's worth, CALL made the difference between success and failure during my unit's pre deployment and mob train up and our first couple of weeks here in Iraq. I've been a fan of CALL almost since it's beginning and a single small book--"Security Force Handbook" was just the ticket. I ordered over 100 copies to be delivered to Ft. Dix, NJ, our MOB site. I told my troops that these books were written in blood and when soldiers from our first sergeant to our newest private came to my tent to get a copy I knew that my job was done. Upon arrival in Iraq, I knew exactly what questions to ask during our relief in place. I can only hope that the big army exapands CALL instead of closing it down during the next drawdown.

  10. #30
    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Mars Learning, as it were

    This is one of the examples I like to use of the Army NOT repeating Vietnam-era institutional mistakes. During that war there was precious little information flowing from the combat zone back to training areas (except for some "search the village" courses and smaller things) until late in the war. This time around they're avoiding that mistake and making tons of good information available. Now if they'd just avoid the same sort of personnel mistakes we'd be that much more to the good.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

  11. #31
    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default Levers or Mechanisms of adaptation

    While deployed I saw 3 different BCTs rotate through Mosul. What I noticed was that with each new unit, the flash to bang cycle on adaptation was shrotened. It seemed to go beyond CDR personality. The only rational reason I believe is the CTCs, CALL, veteran leadership and the rest of the loop which captures the lessons of the operational environment and feeds them into the training cycle. If ever there has been validation for this method and the resources which sustain it, I believe this would be it. It really got me thinking about how we change/adapt.

    Its interesting also that some of the things we use to drive future requirements are being updated with operational experience. It is pretty dynamic. One of the big friction point seems to lie in programatic evaluation of relevancy and redirection. Another is the debate on organizational structure.

  12. #32
    Council Member MattC86's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    This is one of the examples I like to use of the Army NOT repeating Vietnam-era institutional mistakes. During that war there was precious little information flowing from the combat zone back to training areas (except for some "search the village" courses and smaller things) until late in the war. This time around they're avoiding that mistake and making tons of good information available. Now if they'd just avoid the same sort of personnel mistakes we'd be that much more to the good.
    Once the war is over, no matter the outcome, would you say it's safe to assume the Army won't ignore the COIN lessons learned so painfully like it did after Vietnam?

    That FM 3-24 is the first doctrine for COIN since Vietnam is a real travesty. I hope and assume that since we won't be able to refocus on "the real war" like in the 1970s when we had Soviet tank divisions to contend with, we will properly institutionalize the COIN lessons of Iraq into a doctrine that serves not just as a stopgap for a current conflict, but one that takes a proper place within our theory and our training.

    Finally, what are the personnel issues you're talking about? Individual personnel (i.e., leaders) or general personnel (deployment and rotation) policies?

    Matt

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    Default Welcome

    Matt,

    Welcome to the Council - good first post and some topical questions posed. We encourage new members to also post an intro on the Tell Us About You #2... thread. Thanks, and again welcome to the SWC.

    Dave

  14. #34
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Once the war is over, no matter the outcome, would you say it's safe to assume the Army won't ignore the COIN lessons learned so painfully like it did after Vietnam?
    The lesson from the past is that is not a safe assumption; I hope I am wrong. But the past says we go back to what we like.

    Tom

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default When a tree falls....

    Once the war is over, no matter the outcome, would you say it's safe to assume the Army won't ignore the COIN lessons learned so painfully like it did after Vietnam?
    Good Op/Ed piece I thought from the Washington Post entitled The Next Intervention
    Is the United States out of the intervention business for a while? With two difficult wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a divided public, the conventional answer is that it will be a long time before any American president, Democrat or Republican, again dispatches troops into conflict overseas.

    As usual, though, the conventional wisdom is almost certainly wrong. ......
    What I like about the article is it points to the difference between what we say before entering office and what we do when the realities of gevernance encumber us. Our perspective changes. Never underestimate the power of a short memory, or the ability to revise. Having said that there is no gaurentee that we will acknowledge things as they are vs. how we'd prefer them. LTC (R) Daryll Schoening was fond of saying, "Those are not lessons learned, they are lessons available"

  16. #36
    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MattC86 View Post
    Once the war is over, no matter the outcome, would you say it's safe to assume the Army won't ignore the COIN lessons learned so painfully like it did after Vietnam?

    That FM 3-24 is the first doctrine for COIN since Vietnam is a real travesty. I hope and assume that since we won't be able to refocus on "the real war" like in the 1970s when we had Soviet tank divisions to contend with, we will properly institutionalize the COIN lessons of Iraq into a doctrine that serves not just as a stopgap for a current conflict, but one that takes a proper place within our theory and our training.

    Finally, what are the personnel issues you're talking about? Individual personnel (i.e., leaders) or general personnel (deployment and rotation) policies?

    Matt
    Welcome, Matt!

    With personnel I'm referring to the exodus of skilled combat leaders that took place after Vietnam, as well as the ticket-punching mentality among some in the officer corps during that conflict.

    I would hope that the Army as an institution does not lose track of the COIN lessons that they're learning now, but like Tom I fear that they will "lose" them again. This has been a pattern going back to the Indian Wars.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

  17. #37
    Council Member MattC86's Avatar
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    In regards to Steve and Tom, I wonder if the different geopolitical realities of now vs., say, 1975 may make a difference. My hope, I guess, is that since the Army (and the Marine Corps, but the Army in particular) can't just refocus on "the right war" that suits their doctrinal preference, they will continue to focus on small wars and COIN. I think that with the specter of future insurgencies, regime changes, and nation-building on the horizon, we can't just say "we don't do this kind of stuff," which was essentially what the Powell Doctrine was all about.

    Matt

  18. #38
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MattC86 View Post
    In regards to Steve and Tom, I wonder if the different geopolitical realities of now vs., say, 1975 may make a difference. My hope, I guess, is that since the Army (and the Marine Corps, but the Army in particular) can't just refocus on "the right war" that suits their doctrinal preference, they will continue to focus on small wars and COIN. I think that with the specter of future insurgencies, regime changes, and nation-building on the horizon, we can't just say "we don't do this kind of stuff," which was essentially what the Powell Doctrine was all about.

    Matt

    Matt,

    As someone still in service--admittedly as a broken down retiree now civilian--I already hear remarks that highten my concerns.

    Bottom line it will be up to Rob and Ryan and everyone of the younger generation to see it does not happen again.

    Best

    Tom

  19. #39
    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Matt,

    As someone still in service--admittedly as a broken down retiree now civilian--I already hear remarks that highten my concerns.

    Bottom line it will be up to Rob and Ryan and everyone of the younger generation to see it does not happen again.

    Best

    Tom
    Agreed, and this is a trend that predates the Cold War by at least 100 years.

    It all has to do with who makes it through the personnel things I mentioned earlier and manages to either push through major change or preserve the lessons that others might want to forget (or consign to the Marxist-Leninist "dustbin of history"). Sadly that's what's usually required.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

  20. #40
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default On Learning

    On the subject of learning past lessons, I found this today.

    GEN Warner was as LTG Warner XVIII Airborne Corps commander and one of his sons, now retired BG "Jim" Warner was with me in 2-505. We were Ranger buddies in Ranger Class 2-77. Jim's final assignment was as Dep Commandant at CGSC where I had a chance to see him a few months before he retired.

    Anyway, his Dad discusses the Army and learning from Vietnam (as in not learning). He also discusses losing his grandaughter in Afghanistan, Jim's niece and the first female casualty from West Point.

    A veteran general hears echoes from Vietnam in Iraq

    WASHINGTON ó Volney Warner thinks big. A retired Army four-star general who helped craft counterinsurgency doctrine during the Vietnam War, he's made a career out of thinking about how U.S. military strategy should advance America's global interests.

    How does domestic politics shape military tactics? How and why did U.S. civilian and military leaders fail in Vietnam and Iraq? What has Iraq taught the U.S. military about unconventional war?

    Warner is more than a detached student of America's current conflicts: Seven of his immediate family members have served in the military, five of them in Iraq or Afghanistan. They include his two sons, one a retired brigadier general and the other a retired colonel; a son-in-law who trained local troops in Iraq as a brigadier general; a granddaughter who's a captain in the Army Reserve; a grandson serving in Iraq and another grandson at West Point who'll be commissioned as an officer in June and probably ordered to a war zone immediately.

    Also, Warner's 24-year-old granddaughter, Army 1st Lt. Laura Walker, who served in Iraq in 2004 and was killed by a homemade bomb a year later on her second combat tour, this time in Afghanistan. Her death makes Warner ponder, sometimes publicly, who was responsible for sending his granddaughter to two war zones without a sound strategy for victory.

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